News and Press Releases

Vancouver BC Resident Was Arrested Last Year as Cruise Ship Docked in Miami

June 15, 2009

CHARLES LAI, 43, of Vancouver, BC was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle for Conspiracy to Export Cocaine. LAI was arrested in March 2008, when the cruise ship he was on docked in Miami, Florida. LAI was indicted by a grand jury in Seattle. In his plea agreement LAI admits to trafficking a specific shipment of cocaine and firearms that were seized at the Canadian border in October 2007. At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge James L. Robart called it a “massive” cocaine conspiracy “touching the lives of numerous people in the U.S. and Canada.” Judge Robart told LAI, and his family in the courtroom, that “If you are dealing with millions of dollars in drugs and guns, it often leads to violence.” In handing down the stiff sentence, Judge Robart told LAI he would “not be dead in the next two years, which in what I have seen in Canadian drug dealing, is becoming more common.”

LAI agreed to forfeit $250,000 to the government as part of his plea agreement entered into in March 2009.

LAI was charged as part of a joint Canadian-United States investigation that led to a major seizure of cocaine in October 2007. On October 24 and 25, 2007, Blaine and Seattle ICE agents followed a suspected drug courier, Canadian Herman Riar, as he entered the United States at the Blaine border crossing. He was observed driving to a Bothell storage unit, loading boxes (later found to contain cocaine) into his vehicle, and driving back north, crossing the border again at Blaine. After Riar crossed into Canada, Canadian authorities followed and stopped him. They seized approximately 228 kilograms of cocaine from his vehicle. They also found three guns packed alongside the cocaine. Canadian news reports state that Shminder Johal, 34, and Riar, 26, both of Richmond, B.C., were charged in Canada with smuggling $6 million dollars in cocaine and three guns. The news reports also state that Baljinder Kandola, a six-year veteran Canadian Border Guard was arrested for his involvement in allowing criminal organizations to pass through into Canada from the United States.

In his plea agreement, LAI admits that he was a member of the drug conspiracy. Other members of the conspiracy claim LAI was the person directing their smuggling activities. Judge Robart made findings in court that LAI was a leader of the conspiracy, directing the activities of others. Assistant United States Attorney Patty Lally read from text messages in court showing LAI directing the activities of the conspirators.

When he spoke to the court, LAI tried to claim he had gotten involved in the conspiracy thinking it was just an “investment opportunity,” like buying stock. LAI claimed he wasn’t “hands on” with the drugs. However, Ms. Lally described for the court how an earlier drug shipment was followed to a Vancouver B.C. home owned by LAI, and she described how LAI’s car was spotted at the home that night, apparently checking on the shipment. Ms. Lally said LAI “had a businessman’s approach to drug dealing, buying his underlings BlackBerrys to communicate, and buying space on a server so that his email records could not be subpoenaed without his knowledge.” Ms. Lally noted that despite his lack of criminal history, LAI had been contacted by Canadian law enforcement in July 2007, and was found to have a gun, $1,000 cash and twelve cell phones in his car. “Those phones are not the tools of a real estate professional,” Ms. Lally told the court.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Doug Whalley and Patricia Lally.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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